How do I protect my music?

There is no need to register a work in order to secure copyright protection. It is protected by copyright if it satisfies the eligibility criteria outlined below. It is advisable but not essential to register copyright in a work in the USA if it is likely to be exploited there. Registration enables one to claim a higher level of damages against someone who is found in any legal action to have infringed that copyright in the USA and to recover legal costs.

Always use protection

Let people know that you believe your music is protected by copyright: You should always write the international copyright symbol ©, the name of the copyright owner (i.e. you the composer or any publisher to whom the copyright may have been assigned) and the year in which the work was first published (or written if not yet published) in a prominent position on the original and every copy of the work. This will put users on notice of the fact that the work may be protected by copyright but it does not of itself confer protection.

Date the work

By taking one of the following measures you can create and preserve evidence of the fact that your work was in existence at a certain date. This could be very useful for evidential purposes if you ever need to pursue a claim for infringement of copyright. 

1. Put a copy of the work (on paper or as an audio recording) in an envelope, sign your name across the seal(s) of the envelope and send it to yourself by registered post. Do NOT open the envelope on receipt but store the package in a safe place until such time as you may need it in the course of any legal proceedings. It is wise to note the title of the work on the envelope for your future reference. It is the date stamp coupled with the fact that the package is unopened that constitutes the crucial evidence.

2. Lodge a copy of the work (on paper or on tape) with your bank or solicitor and obtain a dated receipt.

Is the music eligible for copyright protection?

Music is eligible for copyright protection under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 as a musical work provided:

  • it is written in music notation or recorded on tape or fixed in some other form;
  • it is original in the sense that it has not been copied from any other musical work; and
  • the writer is either a British Citizen or is domiciled or resident in the UK or the work is first published in the UK or a country which has signed the Berne Convention.

The words which are to be spoken or sung with the music are eligible for separate copyright protection as a literary work provided they meet the above criteria. A recording of music (with or without words) attracts its own copyright protection as a sound recording.

Moral rights

Moral rights are an additional form of protection for works protected by copyright. These rights are personal to the composer or author of the work and cannot be transferred to anyone else although the composer/author can choose to waive them altogether.